Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Italian Case On Proving Existence of Christ Proceeds

Under the Italian Penal Code, both "abuse of popular credulity" (Sec. 661) and "impersonation"(Sec. 494) are offenses. Luigi Cascioli, who lives in Viterbo, a town north of Rome, is a retired agronomist who once studied for the priesthood but later became a militant atheist. He has written a book titled The Fable of Christ. A priest, Father Enrico Righi of Bagnoregio, denounced Cascoli in the parish newsletter for questioning Christ's historical existence. In September,2002, Cascoli responded by filing suit. The trial judge dismissed the case but the Court of Appeal held that Signor Cascioli had a reasonable case for his accusation that Father Righi was "abusing popular credulity". So yesterday the trial judge, Gaetano Mautone, set a preliminary hearing for next month. The London Times reports on the case as one in which Father Righi will be required to prove that Jesus Christ existed. It also reports, not surprisingly, that "the Vatican has so far declined to comment".

In an e-mail sent last September to the Archbishop of Bologna, Cascioli said he would drop the suit if Righi offered just one proof of the existence of Jesus. Cascioli has made many of the documents in his lawsuit available on his website. From the complaint, here is an excerpt from his explanation of the charges:
According to article 661 of the Italian Penal Code, there is an abuse of popular credulity when someone, by means of fraud, deceives a great number of people. In this particular case, the ministers of religion of the Catholic Church, like Righi in the present case, by committing historical falsity, therefore presenting invented facts as if true and actually occurred – but useful to religious doctrine – they deceive all the people that come into contact with the teachings of such religion, by inducing them to believe in that religion, not on the basis of purely theological reasoning (totally legitimate and admissible), but on the basis of a deceptive representation of the facts.